Dacher Kelter a psychologist from the University of California, Berkeley, challenges the common notions of human selfishness with new findings of neuroscience and social research. We are often taught of Darwinian notions of competition and survival of the fittest. We are socialized into thinking that humans are selfish. For competition, greed is a positive thing. Wars are unavoidable. Human nature is frequently described as self-centered and power-hungry in political theory as well as popular culture.
Dacher Keltner questions this view of human nature and tries to explain how and why pro-social emotions like empathy, compassion, and gratitude came to be. He explores parts of our brain that are wired for considering others’ needs such as the frontal lobe. The periaqueductal gray is a very old part of the brain that responds with empathy to the suffering of others. The vagus nerve also elicits responses of generosity to people in need. By exploring further Darwin’s claim that one of the greatest human instincts—and occasionally even stronger than self-interest—is sympathy, Keltner gives this theory more depth.
Editor’s Note: Dacher Kelter is making a very important point here. From the point of view of evolution, mammals learned to care for their young to the point of self-sacrifice. This in essence is the definition of love- the ability to care for others even at the cost of disregarding self-interest. Human beings came from this mammalian tradition and expanded the torch of love from offspring to clan, to tribe, to ethnic group, to nations.
Today, the concept of love of country is so high that people are willing to die for their motherland. Now that the whole planet is threatened with extinction and nuclear war, we need to highlight our mammalian tradition and let our love expand to embrace the whole planet.